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Calm before the Oberammergau Storm


On the streets of Oberammergau today, it is quiet. There is little indication that, less than a year from now, this small German village will be packed with visitors from all over the world.

Oberammergau’s Passion Play, which will take place next summer, is perhaps the most anticipated event in the world of tourism. Locals have performed the play once every ten years since the 1630s, when they vowed to re-enact the Passion after being spared the ravages of the bubonic plague.  Over nearly 400 years, what started as a small local tradition has grown into the largest, most elaborate Passion play in the world, drawing throngs of visitors from every corner of the globe.

Next year’s play will be performed five times a week, from mid-May through early October. It is an effort of the entire town, and already preparations are well underway. Work crews have completed renovations to the permanent theater that the play takes place in. When we visited today, set designers were busy preparing the stage for one of the numerous backdrops to be used in the production. Throughout the town, local men stopped shaving just before Easter this year, in order to be appropriately scruffy to appear in the play next summer. All told, around 2,000 locals will appear on stage.

Beyond the theater, Oberammergau as a town is charming. Many of the buildings in town feature prominent exterior murals or well-manicured flowerboxes. Visitors can visit a woodcarving museum, or one of several shops that sell Christmas items year round. Typical restaurants, cafes and beer gardens are easy to find.

Beginning next May, all of these places will be packed with tourists and visitors. To get a look at the village while it is just a village is a privilege that far fewer are able to enjoy.


Brian Jewell

Brian Jewell is the executive editor of The Group Travel Leader. In more than a decade of travel journalism he has visited 48 states and 25 foreign countries.